The economic uncertainty, the loss of competitiveness vis-à-vis other countries and incidents of malpractice challenge the growth of cosmetic surgeries in Costa Rica. Although in the cosmetic surgery business the Costa Rican market maintains its attractiveness for foreign clients, in other countries procedures of similar quality are offered, but at lower prices.

The most frequent cosmetic surgeries in Costa Rica are liposuctions, breast implants, tummy tucks, breast lift and reduction. To a lesser extent are facial rejuvenation surgeries such as ritidectomy (elimination of skin wrinkles) and blepharoplasty (rejuvenate the eyelids) says the Association of Doctors Specialists in Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery.

This was assured to La Nación by the Asociación de Médicos Especialistas en Cirugía Plástica, Reconstructiva y Estética (Association of Specialists in Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery), Clínica Unibe and the Cámara Costarricense de la Salud (Promed) – Costa Rican Chamber of Health.

“Costa Rica offers medical tourism at relatively competitive prices, especially service packages, as well as a range of doctors and specialists of great quality and experience. Our country still stands out, but it is becoming less competitive,” said Diego Solís Barrantes, general director of Clínica Unibe.

Massimo Manzi, executive director of Promed, believes that “… international competition and rising general costs will cause the business to stagnate, so the country must now target more premium segments and new markets like China.”

According to the Asociación, the surgeries most popular in Costa Rica are liposuction, breast implants, abdominoplasty, breast lift and breast reduction.

Initially, the economic uncertainty prevailing in Costa Rica causes a considerable portion of consumers to postpone the purchase of products or services that are not indispensable, including cosmetic surgeries.

Costa Rica economy is going through a period of deceleration that mainly affects the sale of goods and services by local companies, which barely increased 0.3% according to the data, as of June, of the Índice Mensual de Actividad Económica (IMAE) -Monthly Index of Economic Activity.

Mario Quesada, representative of the Asociación, explained that in recent years there was an upward trend in the number of procedures – although they do not have the exact figure – because more Costa Ricans showed interest in their health and appearance.

However, in 2019 the situation changed. “The trend has been down (…). Being a purely elective procedure, it makes it an unnecessary consumer product,” Quesada added.

Another factor against the cosmetic surgery business is that, although Costa Rica maintains its appeal to foreign patients, there are other countries that offer the same procedures with similar quality, but at lower prices, because their operating costs are more low.

Some of the main competitors include Mexico, India, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama and the Dominican Republic, but Costa Rica’s main difficulty in competing with these markets is its high operating cost.“

At the Clinica Uribe, Barrantes explained that from 2014 to 2018 they performed approximately 2,000 cosmetic surgeries between national and foreign patients; that is, around 500 per year. Meanwhile, so far this year, they performed 200 such procedures.

A factor in “the list of inconveniences” is that in recent years there were cases of malpractice in the field of cosmetic surgery, which projects a negative image in international markets.

“Despite the negative news, patients are making sure to check if their surgeon is really who they say they are, they are comparing, they are putting aside the economic factor and are leaning towards safety,” Mario Alvarenga, a specialist in plastic surgery, told La Nacion.

The surgeries that Alvarenga performs most are lip-tagging with skin tightening, breast augmentation, rhinoplasty and tummy tuck with lower back liposuction. These types of procedures can exceed US$3,500 (approximately ¢2 million at the current dollar exchange rate).

The average stay of a medical tourist in Costa Rica is currently from 10 to 15 nights, while the approximate cost is around US$5,000 to US$15,000, that can include surgery, surgeon’s fee, pre and post-op appointments, medications, transportation to/from the airport and to/from the surgery and primary doctor’s appointments, room, meals and nursing assistance.